THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Xander glanced around himself quickly, taking in the situation. He was trapped. Not that this was a unique situation, the last fifteen years of his life being devoted to the fight against darkness had pretty well exhausted the possibility of anything unique. Sad to say this was the kind of situation that Xander had found himself in way too often. Accepting his fate, Xander's body dropped back into a relaxed pose. Seeing this, the oldest and most powerful of those surrounding him pounced.
"Mr. Harris, do I understand correctly that your doctoral thesis postulates a common progenitor for both the Persian and Hmong languages?"
Leaning a bit forward, and appearing more confident than he felt; Xander answered "that is correct Dr. Lindsey." His answer was met with muted chuckles and looks of incredulity from several of the people seated in front of him. As he watched them find amusement at his expense, his infamous temper took over. His eye, normally so warm and friendly became cold and dangerous, his entire demeanor hardened and somehow, without obvious change; he transformed from Alexander Harris, PhD candidate in ancient languages to Xander Harris, serious ass-kicker. The look alone silenced most of his detractors, and with the resulting quiet, he began a spirited defense of his research.
His journey towards his degree had started in Africa. When he had agreed to go to the Dark Continent and find slayers, he really hadn't considered just how diverse a place it was. Everyone on the continent seemed to speak a different language and finding a guide and translator that didn't think you were insane wasn't the easiest thing in the world. So by necessity Xander started learning the languages needed to get by. Surprisingly he found learning easier than he had remembered in High School, and sooner than he would have believed he had a good command of French, Swahili and Arabic. He became more fluent as the year passed, and even picked up smatterings of other languages, like Bushman for example. He had discovered himself in Africa, the challenges of the life he lived there had tempered him, the way fire will temper steel. After a year he was poised, confident and very self assured; and he was happy. So of course that was when he was pulled out. Despite the work he had done, he was being replaced with someone the head watcher had considered 'more capable' and was politely informed that he would be going to Cleveland to help. He was never told exactly what he was supposed to help with, and Robin had not been told what the young man should be doing, other than not patrolling; so Xander's first few days on the new Hellmouth were awkward to say the least.
The delay in determining what he would be doing had at least given him a chance to talk to Faith and catch up on what had happened in the last year. Truthfully Faith had been the biggest shock of all; the former 'wild-child' was now responsible for guarding the Hellmouth, and training the new slayers. Both jobs she seemed to take very seriously.
Buffy was in Rome with Dawn; Dawn was in school and Buffy was sleeping with a dark mage known as 'the Immortal'. Xander just shook his head in disgust when he heard this. He figured they needed a sign for the senior slayer's bedroom door, the kind you find at amusement park rides, that would say "you must be this evil to ride the Buffy". Faith nearly laughed herself into a hemorrhage when he suggested that. Willow was still down in Brazil with Kennedy, studying magic. Although Xander believed that the only magic Willow had studied in the last year had to do with Kennedy's tongue stud. Giles was back in England doing what he could to re-organize the Watcher's Council. Of the potentials that had been at the collapse of Sunnydale, only Cho Ahn was still in Cleveland; and that was only because they couldn't get her back into China, at least not legally. Faith was still dating Robin, but the relationship seemed to be hitting a lot of potholes, at least from Xander's point of view.
He was back but no one seemed to know what to do with him; so in a typically Xander move, he created his own spot. He started out just getting to know the girls and trying to make Slayer HQ as much of a home as it could be. Forbidden from patrolling he helped out with the training, and even the research. And the research led him to school. After discovering his gift for languages in Africa, Xander decided that he needed to learn as many as he could so he would be more effective at researching the newest baddy and reading prophecies. He was surprised to discover that Cleveland State University had an excellent Ancient Languages program, and Xander had thrown himself into it whole heartedly, just like he did everything else. After five years, Xander received his Bachelor's degree in Greek, Latin, Egyptian and Babylonian. He hadn't thought past that point when his advisor had asked him about his plans for post-graduate work. Xander honestly admitted that he had no plans what-so-ever and was only learning to keep himself busy; but the thought wouldn't leave his head.
At his graduation party, he asked his two best friends what they thought about him continuing his studies.
"Sure Xander" Dawn replied immediately "aside from giving you serious credibility to people who don't know you; it would also freak the hell out of my idiot sister and everyone else that thought you were too unfocused for college."
Dawn had come to Cleveland after she had finished school in Italy. A rather mean part of Xander thought that Buffy had ditched the younger Summers as soon as she was able just so she could fool around with the Immortal on a more frequent basis. Well for whatever reason, Dawn was at Cleveland State and going through the same program that Xander had just finished.
"Gotta side with Little D on this one" Faith chimed in "the best revenge is always makin people look stupid for underestimating you."
It never failed to surprise Xander that he and Faith were friends, let alone best friends. If someone had told him back in Sunnydale that he and the dark slayer would turn out this way, he would have laughed in their faces. Their friendship had started out slowly, there was a lot of awkwardness and baggage left over from Faith's two trips to Sunnydale, but eventually that was cleared out or cleared up and they had slowly built their friendship from there. Dawn coming over had accelerated the process some, until now when the three were nearly inseparable.
"So you both think it's a smart move" Xander asked the two.
"Yeah, but it's your call X" Faith replied "remember what we said about makin other people's decisions."
Xander smirked back, remembering the incident Faith was referring to but then another thought occurred "umm, before any decisions are finalized I've got something else to tell you guys".
Both girls immediately were paying attention to their friend from the Y side of the gene pool, his tone had told them that the news wasn't of the happiest. "What is it X" Faith asked, speaking for the both of them.
"Well the fact is I might not have time to take classes."
"What's going on Xander" Dawn asked in a severe tone.
"Robin's leaving in a month."
"Why . . . He's what . . ." both girls started speaking at once, but Xander held up his hand and they both stilled, but he could see the questions bubbling in their heads.
"Apparently Giles wants to groom him to take over as Head Watcher one day, so he's going to England."
"So who're they sendin' in to take his place" Faith asked. She was a bit worried; even though she and the watcher had broken up long ago, the two of them were mature enough to still work together and while Robbie might be a tight ass compared to some of the English types that had come through Slayer Central, he was real loose.
"No one" Xander said "they want me to take over".
"Giles wants you in charge" Dawn asked, surprise in her voice "and you said what"?
"I told him I'd do it on one condition."
"Which was" Faith asked.
"That my two best friends help me do it right" he said, finally raising his gaze from the table and looking at them with hope blazing in his eye.
For an instant Faith's mood turned nasty as she thought that Xander meant Willow and Buffy, but then she realized just who he had meant, and a feeling of near euphoria took over; someone she cared about had chosen her over Buffy. Masking how she felt with practiced ease; she turned to Dawn and asked "so what ya think Baby D, feel like abusing power and bustin' some demon ass."
Dawn scratched her head in mock thought "I'm not sure Faith, I suppose I could be persuaded to lend a hand now and again"; the girl's mask of indifference finally cracked and she looked at Xander with a smile that lit up her face "of course I'm in. Did you really think I might say no?"
Xander turned to Faith "and what about you, could you handle being under another Watcher?"
Faith gave a predatory smile "you know me X, I generally prefer being on top, but if you want to be all masterful and command me then what the hell, I'm in too."
Both Faith and Dawn nearly laughed themselves silly at the look on Xander's face as he processes Faith's double entendre; he knew that working with the dark slayer was never dull; he just wished she'd tone it down from time to time. Finally trusting himself to speak, Xander asked "so do you think I'd be able to handle this place and grad school as well?"
"No prob" and "absolutely" were shot back at him almost as soon as he finished the question. He glowed a bit at that, friends who thought he could be something other than a donut fetcher, it was a great feeling. "Thanks guys" he finally said, a hint of a tear in his eye. Then looking at his watch he said "since we have to start getting ready for Robin leaving, I'll be up early tomorrow and I need my beauty sleep." His two best friends in the world laughed and with a beautiful girl on each arm, Xander headed back to Slayer central.
And they had run Cleveland after Wood had left. In fact they were running it so well that it was becoming quite the headache for Giles; they slayers that rotated through didn't want to leave. He had to deal with these disgruntled slayers on such a regular basis that he was considering hiring a professional diplomat just to deal with this one problem. Xander and his two best friends were still running Cleveland on the night of his Thesis defense.
"It is nearly time."
"I know, he defends himself this evening."
"And the outcome?"
"Should be as we require."
"He is the best candidate we've ever had."
"True, but he hasn't taken the seat yet."
"I know, but I have hope."
"As do I my friend."
Xander's defense of his thesis had been going on for over two hours when he was asked "exactly how is this possible Mr. Harris"?
Xander smiled to himself when he heard that question, by asking 'how' and not 'if', the professor had unwittingly admitted that he had proved his point. "I cannot say Doctor Phillips; however I do have a hypothesis as to the possible connection. If you had a tribe that existed in what became Persia, a tribe that was advanced but had some sort of physical distinction that kept them from intermixing with the general population. Their knowledge would have made them valuable, so the locals wouldn't have simply killed them but used them instead. The knowledge base of the local population would soon grow to the point where the smaller tribe was ceasing to be useful. The smaller tribe must have seen the writing on the wall and left, looking for a safe place. Going north was out, so they went the only direction that they could, east. They wouldn't have been able to go north of the Himalayas and they couldn't settle in India, the local population was already too numerous. So they kept going east until they found an unpopulated pocket of the ancient world, the center of the South-East Asian peninsula. Now this isolation would have caused dwindling numbers, I cannot imagine that there were many left when the ancestors of the Hmong found them. Like before, I would suppose they trade on their knowledge to avoid extermination before they simply faded away." He looked up to see that all seven members of the Ancient Languages were hanging on his every word.
As he fell silent, the spell was broken and the faculty shook their heads and looked at each other; finally Doctor Lindsey spoke "I believe that the faculty needs to fully discuss your dissertation Mr. Harris; you'll hear from us in a day or two at the most."
"Thank you all" Xander said, and gathering his materials, he headed for home.
When he got back to Slayer Central, he took the reports from the first two groups, but Cho-Ahn and two of the newbies were running late. He had just settled down in his office when there was a knock on his door. Thinking it was either Faith, Dawn or both he said "come in" without looking up. When he did look up from the report he was reading, who he found in his office were two men dressed in suits that were almost a hundred years out of date. Alarmed at how these two could have gotten past everyone but trying to hide it he simply asked "how can I help you gentlemen"?
"Mr. Harris, we represent Miskatonic University in Arkham Massachusetts, and we'd like to hire you."
"Huh" was all Xander could say.
The two men sat down, and the older of the two continued "our University has always had an Arcane Studies department, however it is usually unoccupied."
"I can understand why" Xander said "I can't imagine there'd be a lot of interest in something like that."
"Can't you Mr. Harris" the younger man interjected "a Watcher such as yourself must know that there are more than slayers fighting the darkness and people like that would seek out such a program."
"Indeed" said the older man, taking back control of the conversation "the difficulty Mr. Harris isn't the amount of interest, but rather the shortage of suitable candidates for such a position."
Xander suddenly sat back in his chair "you're here to recruit me, aren't you".
"Quite correct Mr. Harris. You have the requisite knowledge of ancient languages, you have experience with various entities commonly referred to as demons, you have the research capabilities and knowledge of the relevant texts, and you have the restlessness of spirit that is also required."
"So assuming I'm interested, what are the particulars in terms of salary and such?"
"Before we discuss that Mr. Harris, there is one more test you must pass."
"And that is?"
The younger man opened a briefcase and pulled out a scroll "could you read that please."
Xander was instantly suspicious, so he pulled out a box that he had asked Willow to make for him; it had a nullification spell on it so that any charm or enchantment on an item was negated. Xander also remembered to put gloves on in case there was something mundane like poison on the scroll. Neither of the men said anything as they watched his preparations. He pulled the scroll out and glanced over it briefly, then realized that it wasn't written in a human language, but in D'voltray; a language that was kind of a demonic Latin. Most of the modern demonic languages were based on it. Now that he had his bearings, Xander oriented the scroll properly and scanned it again. "Now the title here says 'Slayer Prophecies' and the scroll is broken up into four parts, so I'd guess we're looking at four separate prophecies." He looked up to see the two men hanging on his every word. "By the way, how did you pick out this scroll?"
"These were all time stamped by someone who held the seat earlier, we brought the one that indicated the prophecies were most relevant to what is happening right now" the older one spoke.
"So neither of you can read this" Xander asked.
They both shook their heads 'no'.
"Weird" Xander said at the synchronized shaking, and then went back to the scroll. "Lets see, prophecy one" he said and started reading; The Golden Slayer will die twice but the love of her White Knight will bring her back both times. If she strays from the mouth she will wither, for only when fighting evil is she whole. He relayed what the prophecy said to the two men and then sat back in thought.
"Does it mean anything" the younger one asked.
"Yeah" Xander answered absently, his mind still on the prophecy "most importantly it tells us that this was originally from a human seer. Demonic prophecies are even more abstract than this; all 'blank verse and purple metaphor' as someone once said." Shaking his head to clear it from the first prophecy's message, he started to read again "let's see what number two has to say". The fire tree shall burn, and the flame of its grief will consume the world. On the cliff of kings the fire will rage and the temple will rise and only love can quench its flames. 'Damn" Xander thought 'someone knew chapter and verse of what was going to happen. I wonder if the Watcher's had copies of these.'
He looked at the two gentlemen again and asked "what the hell is this thing?"
The younger looked at the older, and after a brief nod he turned to Xander and said "it is one of the Pnankotic Manuscripts. A collection of wisdom and prophecy that is unique in the world."
"So these are at your University and nowhere else." At the older one's nod Xander continued "how is that possible, and why am I so important to you?"
The older sighed a bit but said "the University was unofficially founded about twenty years after the Pilgrims landed and formed the Bay Colony. No one knows how, or by whom. What is known is that when it was officially founded there was a provision that there be a chair for Arcane Studies and some rather rigorous requirements for the candidates who would sit in that chair. Over the years it has become harder to find suitable candidates; honestly we had despaired of ever finding another one considering how the world is so much more technological these days. Anyway, we have fifty years to fill the vacancy or the University must be dissolved, that is specific in the founding charter. The chair has been vacant for almost forty years as of now; we hope that you will end that. As to how all this is possible, the previous holders of that chair roamed the earth in search of such artifacts and scroll caches. To be honest we have warehouses filled with scrolls and such, but we've had very few people who could sort them, let alone read them."
"So I'm your best hope to keep the school around?"
Again they both nodded in unison.
Xander was about to turn back to the two remaining prophecies when the door burst open and Faith strode in. "Hey X, we just got a call from Steph; Cassie and Cho-Ahn are down at the hospital, they've been roughed up bad." As Xander was picking up the phone to deal with this new crisis, Faith noticed the two other people in the office. "Where the hell are you two from, an Undertaker's convention?"
They looked at each other for a moment; the younger one answered "we are here to discuss Mr. Harris' future employment."
"Huh, where at?"
"That is for Mr. Harris to say."
Just then the conversation was interrupted by Xander "gentlemen I'm sorry but I've got a situation that demands my immediate attention. If I could reply at a later time perhaps" he let the phrase hang there.
"Of course" the younger one replied "we will be in town for the rest of the week if necessary." He handed Xander a business card and said "please call this number at any time."
"Thanks" Xander replied "I'm already looking forward to continuing our discussion Mr. . ."
"Carter" the older one said, shaking his hand "Randolph Carter".
Xander and Faith were doing the one thing they both hated most of all, waiting for news from a doctor. While patrolling, Cho-Ahn and two of the new slayers ran into a nest of Glaroch demons that no one knew about. They had started fighting with two when the rest of the nest had jumped into the fray. Stephanie, one of the newbies, had come out unscathed, but both Cassie and Cho-Ahn had taken quite a beating. Cho-Ahn would be OK with a day or twos rest, but Cassie was fighting for her life on the operating table right now. Xander was convinced that it was only the fact that she was a slayer had enabled her to survive this long. As they sat there reading month old magazines, Faith turned to Xander and asked "who were the two undertakers in your office X?"
"They were talking to me about a job."
"You'd leave us behind?"
"I'm not sure Faith, it is a tempting offer, and not just because of the money."
Faith sat there sulking for a moment then asked "so where were they from"?
"When you were growing up, did you ever hear of a town called Arkham"?
"Shit yes, it's where I was born. Apparently mom was living there when she got knocked up and had me there, we moved to Boston before I was two. Arkham, now there is one creepy place. It's not actively evil like the Hellmouth, but there is one really weird vibe about the place. Me and some buds spent a night there. I stayed in the room with one of the guys, working off some tension you know; but the other two were out walking around all night. Anyway when we found them in the morning they swore they'd been walking around lost for over a year, and their hair had gone dead white. We never found out what had really happened to them, and we never went back. So where in Arkham did they work?"
At this pronouncement Faith's eyes nearly bugged out of her head "you gotta be shitting me, they want you at the repository"?
"The Repository, any idea why they call it that?"
"It's always been called that, everyone always talked about how they had all these old books and artifacts there, but you had to be on the inside to see them. They were like always sending expeditions to the damdest places, and you should hear what some of the students said they brought back from those trips. Anyway it's supposed to be 'the repository of all knowledge', at least that's what's on their seal; so that's what everyone calls it."
"Interesting" was all Xander said, but he had a very thoughtful look on his face.
After about three minutes of waiting for something more Faith asked "so what did they have that would make you even consider taking em up on their offer."
"They showed me a scroll of prophecies written in a demonic language, but the prophecy was obviously from a human seer. The first two were about Buffy and Willow, and were damned detailed; if there are more of them and working there's the only way to get them, then that's where I need to be. They've got information that we need, and apparently I'm the only one that can get it."
"You said there were four prophecies but you only told me about two, what were the other two about?"
"Well one was definitely about you, it talked about how you would leave the path, but the 'wayward souled' would put you back on it."
"So there was a prophecy that said I'd go bad and Angel would straighten me out" Faith said with some anger "then why the hell didn't Giles know about it."
"My point exactly Faith. The only conclusion that makes sense is that they didn't. So if this place has slayer prophecies that the watchers don't know about, then we need to know what they know. And these guys want me in."
"So are you gonna leave?"
Xander thought for a second "I'm gonna talk to Giles tomorrow, but if I do leave, I'm gonna ask a friend or two to come with me; as my staff of course." This last bit was said with a comical level of pomposity.
Faith just flipped him off, but secretly she was overjoyed at the thought of being with Xander on an adventure like going to Miskatonic could be.
Any more thought was cut off when the doctor came out to tell them about Cassie.
It had been four very long months since Miskatonic University had made its offer. Xander had accepted the next day, after talking to Giles and asking Faith and Dawn to come with him. They had both said yes, and Giles had agreed that they needed the information contained in the University. None of the slayer prophecies that Xander had read on the scroll were in any of the references that the Watchers had, and Giles was anxious to find out what others were there. The problem hadn't been the three of them getting ready to go, but rather training up their replacements. At Xander's insistence, they had re-called Buffy from Rome and pulled Willow and Kennedy out of Brazil; none of them had come willingly. And once they got there it was painfully obvious that they were woefully out of slaying trim. Getting them up to speed, and making sure that Buffy had the leadership skills necessary was taking longer than Xander had hoped, mostly because their egos kept getting in the way. But things were getting better, and Xander was looking forward to June first, when he started his new job. After all, he had grown up on the Hellmouth, how hard could this be?
May 31, Miskatonic University; the office of the President.
Randolph Carter looked at the antique parchment that was lying on his desk and wondered for at least the thousandth time if he was doing the right thing. Ever since the offer had been made, he had been torn between his sense of duty and his sense of destiny; it was not an easy place to be. Carter glanced at the paper again, he had told the truth that night when he had said that he couldn't read the scrolls, he had not mentioned that some of them had been translated. It was only prudent that those prophecies that dealt directly with the University should be available to the head of the University, and so there was a small cache of papers in a very secure safe, and only the President had the combination. He looked again and wondered at what he had set in motion.
At the end of days, the Cyclopean shall take up his seat at the Repository. Wielding the Key and the Watcher's Blade, he shall come into his own. The dwellers beneath shall look to the cyclopean and his loves as Judge and Jury and when needed, Executioner. He will become an advocate for those the world does not see as human; and through his work, alliances will be made. Great power shall come to him, but he will not be tempted; so in the end of all things he shall use power, but power shall not use him.
Idly, and somewhat irrationally, Carter wondered how good a professor Dr. Harris would turn out to be.
A/N H.P. Lovecraft is one of my favorite authors so I decided to try my hand at a Lovecraft flavored story. I'm not sure if I'll continue it past where it is right now, but I might. Please insert the usual disclaimers here because all I own is an old car and an older basset hound.